Fales Library and Special Collections logo

Guide to the Jill "Billy" Rainsford Papers

Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
3rd Floor
New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 998-2596

Fales Library and Special Collections

Collection processed by Colleen Eklow.

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on June 16, 2017
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Rainsford, Jill "Billy" (Marguerite), 1905-1994.
Title: Jill "Billy" Rainsford Papers
Dates [inclusive]: 1922-1991
Abstract: Jill Rainsford (1905-1994) was born Marguerite Rainsford (known as Billy), in Brooklyn. She was an actress, songwriter, painter and author, and was prominent in New York's Vaudeville theater and motion picture industry during the 1920s both as an actress and songwriter. The collection includes an unpublished autobiography, correspondence, sheet music and a large number of photographs and memorabilia.
Quantity: 5 Linear Feet (5 boxes)
Call Phrase: MSS.030

Return to Top »

Historical/Biographical Note:

Jill Rainsford (1905-1994) born Marguerite Rainsford and known as Billy, was an actress, songwriter, painter and author. Born in Brooklyn, she was the second child of Henry and Julia Rainsford and from an early age aspired to a career on the stage beginning violin and dance lessons at age 8. Her sister Doris, 4 years her senior was devoted to Billy and was her nearly constant companion throughout her life.

Billy was a member of New York's famous Kiddie Klub and performed with such stars as Paulette Goddard, Gene Raymond, and Arlin Riggin, the former Olympic champion. She honed her dance techniques in Rutherford High School Productions, and by 1922, at the age of 17, she had joined Pat Rooney's "Rings of Smoke" Vaudeville act portraying the "French girl" on a cross-country tour.

The tour gave her valuable Vaudeville experience which led her to the nascent film industry and the D.W. Griffith Company in Mamaroneck, New York. She landed the role of the dancing Indian Princess in Griffith's classic film "America," and appeared in "Sally of the Sawdust." In addition she worked with Griffith plotting scenes for his leading actress Carol Dempster.

When the Griffith Studio closed, Billy continued her silent film career at other New York studios including: the Spitz, Pathe, Famous Players-Lasky, and Tech Art starring with Dexter McReynolds, Charley Bowers, Fatty Lehman, and Duncan Renaldo. She also did some modeling during this period, most notably for the artist Bradshaw Crandell, who painted several magazine and calendar covers of Billy, as well as, the pastel portrait in the collection.

When the film industry moved to the west coast, Billy remained in New York with her mother and her sister and began appearing in nightclub acts in many of New York's famous nightclubs including Don Dickerman's Pirate's Den and Country Fair Clubs in Greenwich Village.

Following a brief marriage and the birth of her son Richard Rainsford, she performed on the cruise ship circuit to Havana. Wanting to spend more time with her only child, Billy began a profitable business of writing song lyrics for notable song writers such as Arthur Gutman, Gilbert Wall, Ray Dallas, and performers such as Spivy LeVoe, Florence Herbert, Harriet Hutchins, Beth Challis, and Irene Bordoni.

Later in life Billy went on to own a wholesale antiques shop in upstate New York which she ran with her son and her sister. Billy and Doris then followed Richard's academic career and eventually ended up in Ohio where Billy painted miniature landscapes and wrote her unpublished autobiography 'I Was There Charlie'.

Jill "Billy" Rainsford died on July 5, 1994 at the age of 89.

    Return to Top »

    Scope and Content Note

    The small but rich collection of materials which comprises the Jill "Billy" Rainsford Papers, 1905-1994, in New York University's Fales Library reflects the many aspects of her life: actress, songwriter, painter and author.

    The papers offer a glance into New York's Vaudeville theatre and motion picture industry during the 1920s. Lyrics and music scores document Rainsford's career as a songwriter in the 1930s. A large portion of the collection consists of photographs and memorabilia which adds a visual dimension to the collection. Rainsford's unpublished autobiography provides her own, often witty, insights on her life.

    The papers of Julia D. Rainsford, mother of Jill "Billy" Rainsford provide information on turn of the century New York and include a variety of playbills from New York theaters and opera houses. A trip diary provides information on cross-country travel in the early 1900s.

    The seven series which comprise the Papers of Jill "Billy" Rainsford are measured in linear feet. Each series has a descriptive note and a container list. Following the container lists for the series is a list of oversize materials separated from the rest of the collection. Oversize materials are cross-referenced from their originating series.

    Series Description

    Series One: Correspondence, 1922-1991

    Size: 3 1/4 "

    Form: Letters, greeting cards.

    Arrangement: Three subseries:

    A. General Correspondence 1922-1938, n.d.

    B. General Correspondence, 1968-1991

    C. General Correspondence, arranged by correspondent

    Missing Title

    1. Subseries A, corresponds to the time when Billy was active in show business. It is arranged chronologically. Within this subseries one folder is arranged by subject: the "Rings of Smoke" tour and includes letters written to J.D. Rainsford from Billy.
    2. Subseries B is divided into subject files and includes: general correspondence, art and writing correspondence, "personal and meaningful" correspondence, and letters to publishers. Each file is arranged chronologically. Of special note are the letters Billy wrote and received from Lillian Gish and Frank Capra (1 each) as she was preparing to write her manuscript. These letters are located in the "personal and meaningful correspondence" file.
    3. Subseries C is arranged by correspondent and chronologically within each folder for any one person who wrote a substantial number of letters to Billy.

    Series Two: Music (circa 1930)

    Size: 2 1/2 "

    Form: Typewritten and carbon copies of lyrics, handwritten music scores, handwritten lists, a few carbon copies of letters.

    Arrangement: Three subseries

    A. Music Lyrics

    B. Music Scores

    C. Music Records

    Missing Title

    1. Subseries A contains lyrics, mostly typewritten, and in many cases revisions. These are arranged alphabetically by song title and include such titles as; "Contented Cows", "I Want to be Bad", and "The Subway Masher".
    2. Subseries B contains handwritten music scores. Many accompany the lyrics found in subseries A. Music scores are arranged alphabetically by title, with the exception of one folder which contains music written by Billy and Jim Diamondo. Also included in subseries B is multiple copies of the sheet music for "High Flight" (music written by Jim Diamondo).
    3. Subseries C contains business records relating to song lyrics, including handwritten lists and records of sales and some correspondence to the Library of Congress for copyrights.

    Series Three: Memorabilia

    Size: 6 1/2 "

    Form: Programs, magazines, newspaper clippings, and a scrapbook.

    Arrangement: This series is arranged by form and subject.

    Series Three contains programs highlighting Billy's tour with Pat Rooney, D.W. Griffith programs, and Kiddie Klub programs and a scrapbook documenting Billy's career kept by Doris. Various magazines in which Billy appeared and a folder of newspaper clippings documenting her stage career and personal events in her life are also included. Several oversized magazines were moved to series seven. Boxed jewelry (series three, item 18, scarabs) are housed in Box 4, series six.

    Series Four: Photographic Material

    Size: 6 "

    Form: Black and white movie stills, portraits, negatives, contact sheets, pieces of motion picture film, and one photo album.

    Arrangement: The photographs, mainly 8" x 10" are arranged in folders by type of photo (ie, portraits/publicity or movie stills). Movie stills are arranged by film title whenever possible. Larger photographs, which include portraits by Russell Ball are arranged chronologically.

    Series Five: Julia Rainsford Papers

    Size: 5"

    Form: Letters, greeting cards, postcards, printed materials, one journal/trip diary, one song book, poetry/lyrics, calling cards, theatre and opera programs (moved to oversized materials).

    Arrangement: Correspondence is arranged by "subject" and time period and arranged chronologically within each file. German language letters are grouped together. One folder comprises the Rainsford family papers which includes the marriage license of Henry and Julia Rainsford, citizenship papers of the maternal grandmother of Rainsford, and family burial plot information. A diary of a family cross country trip during 1908-1909 is also included.

    Series Six: 'I Was There Charlie' manuscript

    Size: 6"

    Form: 2 wordprocessed manuscripts, (2) 5 1/4" floppy discs, 2 folders of research material.

    Arrangement: One copy of the manuscript is arranged in folders (2 chapters per folder).

    This series contains 2 copies of the 'I Was There Charlie' manuscript. One copy is arranged in folders for easy access, the other copy remains boxed. Research notes precede the manuscript and contain a synopsis of the manuscript.

    Series Seven: Oversized Material

    Size: 1 3/4 "

    Form: Paper, magazine and calendar covers, theatre programs, oversized magazines.

    Arrangement: By subject and form.

    This series contains Bradshaw Crandall magazine and calendar covers, copies of magazines which feature Billy (1922-1923), and theatre and opera programs collected by Julia Rainsford. A briefcase which belonged to Billy is also included.


    Folders are generally arranged alphabetically.

    The files are grouped into seven series.

    Missing Title

    1. Series I: Correspondence, 1922-1991
    2. Series II: Music
    3. Series III: Memorabilia
    4. Series IV: Photographic Material
    5. Series V: Julia S. Rainsford Papers
    6. Series VI: 'I Was There Charlie' Manuscript
    7. Series VII: Oversize Material

    Return to Top »

    Access Points

    Subject Names

    • Bordoni, Irene
    • Chambers, Ralph
    • Crandell, Bradshaw
    • Bowers, Charles R., 1889-1946
    • Capra, Frank, 1897-1991
    • Dickerman, Donald Horace, 1893-
    • Gish, Lillian, 1893-1993
    • Diamondo, Jim
    • Rainsford, Doris
    • Goddard, Paulette, 1911-1990
    • Griffith, D. W. (David Wark), 1875-1948
    • Rainsford, Richard.
    • Rainsford, Julia.
    • Rainsford, Jill "Billy" (Marguerite), 1905-1994.*
    • Spivy, Madame, 1907-1971
    • Rooney, Pat, 1880-1962

    Document Type

    • Magazines (Periodicals)
    • Clippings (information artifacts)
    • Diaries
    • Scrapbooks.
    • Film stills.
    • Sheet music.
    • Theater programs.
    • Souvenir programs.
    • Photographs
    • Correspondence.
    • Ephemera
    • Manuscripts for publication.

    Subject Organizations

    • D.W. Griffith, Inc.

    Subject Topics

    • Entertainers -- United States -v Biography.
    • Popular music |y 1921-1930.
    • Dance music -- United States
    • Instrumental Music.
    • Motion pictures.
    • Silent films.
    • Vaudeville-- United States -y 20th century.
    • Vaudeville -- United States -x History -x Sources.
    • Music-halls (Variety-theaters, cabarets, etc.)
    • Songs with piano.
    • Theater -- New York (State).
    • Revues -- United States.

    Subject Places

    • New York (N.Y.)

    Family Name(s)

    • Rainsford family

    Return to Top »

    Administrative Information

    Access Restrictions

    Materials are open to researchers. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections, fales.library@nyu.edu, 212-998-2596.

    Use Restrictions

    Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections, fales.library@nyu.edu, 212-998-2596.

    Preferred Citation

    Published citations sshould take the following form:

    Identification of item, date (if known); The Jill "Billy" Rainsford Papers ; MSS 030; box number; folder number; Fales Library and Special Collections
    , New York University Libraries.

    Separated Material

    There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.


    The Jill "Billy" Rainsford Papers were donated to New York University in 1995 by her sister Doris Rainsford of Athens, Ohio.

    Return to Top »

    Container List

    Series One: Correspondence, 1922-1991

    Subseries A. General Correspondence, 1922 - 1938, n.d.

    Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
    Box: 1 Folder : 1 Billy to J.D. Rainsford, from Rooney Tour (removed from series 5)1922 - 1923
    Box: 1 Folder : 2 General Correspondence to Billy from family, friends, and admirers, 1922 - 1924
    Box: 1 Folder : 3 General Correspondence to Billy from family, friends, and admirers, 1925 - 1938, n.d.

    Subseries B. General Correspondence, 1968 - 1991

    Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
    Box: 1 Folder : 4 Art and Writing Correspondence, 1968 - 1991, bulk 1987 - 1991
    Box: 1 Folder : 5 Personal Correspondence, 1980 - 1989
    Box: 1 Folder : 6 Personal and Meaningful Correspondence, 1949 - 1991, bulk circa 1980
    Box: 1 Folder : 7 Letters to Publishers 1988 - 1991
    Box: 1 Folder : 8 Drafts of Letters to Publishers 1988 - 1991

    Subseries C. General Correspondence, by correspondent

    Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
    Box: 1 Folder : 9 Irene Bordoni to Billy 1936 - 1938
    Box: 1 Folder : 10 R.W. Chambers to Billy, 1927
    Box: 1 Folder : 11 Jim Diamondo to Billy, 1971 - 1972
    Box: 1 Folder : 12 Don Dickerman to Billy, 1927
    Box: 1 Folder : 13 Richard Rainsford to Billy, greeting cards, n.d.

    Return to Top »

    Series Two: Music

    Subseries A. Music Lyrics

    Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
    Box: 1 Folder : 1 Song Lyrics, Arranged by title, A - H
    Box: 1 Folder : 2 Song Lyrics, Arranged by title, I - Z

    Subseries B. Music Scores

    Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
    Box: 1 Folder : 3 Music Scores, Arranged by title, A - H
    Box: 1 Folder : 4 Music Scores, Arranged by title, I - P
    Box: 1 Folder : 5 Music Scores, Arranged by title, Q - Z
    Box: 1 Folder : 6 Music Scores, Billy and Jim Diamondo
    Box: 1 Folder : 7 Sheet Music (with duplicate copies) to "High Flight"

    Subseries C. Music Records

    Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
    Box: 1 Folder : 8 Music business records

    Return to Top »

    Series Three: Memorabilia

    Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
    Box: 1 Folder : 1 Programs from Kiddie Klub and Brooklyn Lodge performances (duplicates removed from scrapbook), 1918 - 1921
    Box: 1 Folder : 2 Programs from Rutherford High School and local productions, 1916 - 1919
    Box: 1 Folder : 3 Programs from "Rings of Smoke" tour, 1922 - 1923
    Box: 1 Folder : 4 Programs from D.W. Griffith productions including America and "The Fall of Babylon".
    Box: 1 Folder : 5 Loose pages of a scrapbook, Harry Stower woodcut, circa 1920
    Box: 1 Folder : 6 Actors Directory and Studio Guide, November 1925 and March 1926
    Box: 1 Folder : 7 True Story Magazine 1925, (photographs of Rainsford on pages 40 - 42, photographs of Uma Merkel p 19 - 21).
    Box: 1 Folder : 8 Judge Magazine, December 4, 1926 (caricature of Rainsford on page 17)
    Box: 1 Folder : 9 Pirates Den, 1927?, Cruise Ship Programs 1933, Strip Tease Program (Billy wrote song for production).
    Box: 1 Folder : 10 Newspaper clippings
    Box: 1 Folder : 11 - 17 Scrapbook of Billy's early career, Kiddie Klub and Pat Rooney period.
    Box: 1 Folder : (Item) 18 Scarabs--gift from Kitty Donner, 1938 (moved to box 4)

    Return to Top »

    Series Four: Photographic Material

    Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
    Box: 2 Folder : 1 Photo album: Rainsford family, Billy as child
    Box: 2 Folder : 2 Billy's notes and lists of photographs
    Box: 2 Folder : 3 America
    Box: 2 Folder : 4 Sally of the Sawdust, "That Royle Girl", and publicity photo for "Orphans of the Storm".
    Box: 2 Folder : 5 Barbara Lamar film (1924)
    Box: 2 Folder : 6 Song of the Southern States (1925)
    Box: 2 Folder : 7 M.W. Balfe (1925)
    Box: 2 Folder : 8 Radio Mad (1925)
    Box: 2 Folder : 9 - 10 Caught in the Act
    Box: 2 Folder : 11 The Mask
    Box: 2 Folder : 12 The Yellow Rose
    Box: 2 Folder : 13 Charley Bowers' film (1926)
    Box: 2 Folder : 14 Miscellaneous movie stills
    Box: 3 Folder : 15 Portraits and publicity stills
    Box: 3 Folder : 16 Portraits and publicity stills - - duplicates
    Box: 3 Folder : 17 Don Dickerman Country Fair and Pirate's Den and 1930s nightclub act
    Box: 3 Folder : 18 Trip to Havana (1927)
    Box: 3 Folder : 19 Stills of Other People
    Box: 3 Folder : 20 Negatives and pieces of film
    Box: 3 Folder : 21 Contact sheets of photos in collection

    Loose oversized items

    Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
    Box: 3 Folder : 1 - 3 Rings of Smoke
    Box: 3 Folder : 4 - 7 Publicity portraits for "Rings of Smoke"
    Box: 3 Folder : 8 - 9 America
    Box: 3 Folder : 10 - 11 The Captive Prince
    Box: 3 Folder : 12 - 16 Portraits of Billy signed by Russell Ball
    Box: 3 Folder : 17 The Mask
    Box: 3 Folder : 18 Yellow Rose
    Box: 3 Folder : 19 - 20 Portraits
    Box: 3 Folder : 21 - 26 Rainsford/Dickerman Country Fair Act
    Box: 3 Folder : 27 - 29 Duplicates

    Return to Top »

    Series Five: Julia D. Rainsford Papers

    Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
    Box: 4 Folder : 1 Correspondence in German,
    Box: 4 Folder : 2 Correspondence, Henry Rainsford to Julia,1888 - 1890
    Box: 4 Folder : 3 Correspondence, Henry Rainsford to Julia,1891
    Box: 4 Folder : 4 Correspondence, Henry Rainsford to Julia,1892 - 1921, n.d.
    Box: 4 Folder : 5 Family Correspondence, 1895 - 1901
    Box: 4 Folder : 6 Family Correspondence, 1904 - 1922, n.d.
    Box: 4 Folder : 7 General Correspondence, 1887 - 1939
    Box: 4 Folder : 8 Correspondence, Bob? to Julia, 1924 - 1926
    Box: 4 Folder : 9 Christmas and greeting cards
    Box: 4 Folder : 10 Calling cards, ephemera
    Box: 4 Folder : 11 Julia and Doris Rainsford's poems and jingles
    Box: 4 Folder : 12 Rainsford Family Papers
    Box: 4 Folder : 13 Songbook
    Box: 4 Folder : 14 Trip diary, 1908 - 1909

    Return to Top »

    Series Six: 'I Was There Charlie' manuscript

    Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
    Box: 4 Folder : 1 - 2 Research notes
    Box: 4 Folder : 3 'I Was There Charlie' manuscript, Chapters 1 and 2
    Box: 4 Folder : 4 'I Was There Charlie' manuscript, Chapters 3 and 4
    Box: 4 Folder : 5 'I Was There Charlie' manuscript, Chapters 5 and 6
    Box: 4 Folder : 6 'I Was There Charlie' manuscript, Chapters 7 and 8
    Box: 4 Folder : 7 'I Was There Charlie' manuscript, Chapters 9 and 10
    Box: 4 Folder : 8 I was there Charlie manuscript, Chapters 11 and 12
    Box: 4 Folder : 9 I was there Charlie manuscript, Chapters 13 and 14
    Box: 4 Folder : 10 I was there Charlie manuscript, Chapters 15 and 16
    Box: 4 Folder : 11 'I Was There Charlie' manuscript, Chapter 17
    Box: 4 Folder : 12 (2) 5 1/4 inch floppy discs of manuscript
    Box: 4 Folder : 13 Boxed copy of manuscript

    Return to Top »

    Series Seven: Oversized Material

    Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
    Box: 5 Folder : 1 Bradshaw Crandall calendar and magazine covers; handwritten music score to "High Flight", music store bag which held copies of sheet music.
    Box: 5 Folder : 2 Magazines: New York Clipper, June 28, 1922; New York Star, March 31, 1923 (3 copies); Billboard, April 21, 1923
    Box: 5 Folder : 3 - 4 Theatre and Opera Programs collected by J.D. Rainsford, 1873 - 1898, bulk 1886 - 1888
    Box: 5 Folder : (Item) 5 Briefcase - - gift from Doris to Billy for lyrics.

    Return to Top »

    Return to Top »